Monday, July 2, 2007

Coach Profile: Jay Norvell

Even though I've been profiling the players in this series, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the man behind one of the big coaching changes at UCLA this past off season. Jay Norvell was named the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Bruins this January after Jim Svoboda was fired. With the Bruin offense struggling last season, there will be a lot of pressure on Norvell to right the ship and kick this offense back into high gear.

The Bruins had the 7th best offense in the conference (71st nationally) last season and that was mainly due to a weak passing attack. It will be up to Norvell to try and improve the passing game, his quarterbacks' performance, and the offense as a whole. He has a lot of experienced players to work with, but it will be an uphill battle. He has a revamped O-line, a QB coming back from injury, few play makers at wideout, and a running game that didn't deliver many big plays in 2006. Norvell is going to have to bring almost every unit up a notch if the Bruins are going to compete for the conference title.

UCLA will be running the west coast offense again under Norvell, but with more of an emphasis on the shotgun. Jay has also introduced a more verbose and complex vocabulary for this team that will take some time for them to learn. In the spring there was an emphasis on speed and tempo, so expect them to get to the line faster and have fewer delay of game penalties and wasted timeouts. Norvell is also introducing single back sets with stacked wide outs. It should be a more pass-oriented and wide open offense this year, something that has been sorely missing the last few seasons.

It was no coincidence that Norvell ended up in Westwood. He has been close friends with Karl Dorrell and Dewayne Walker for years. The three are roughly the same age and they have followed similar career paths. One interesting fact is that Dorrell and Norvell played opposite each other in the 1986 Rose Bowl. Norvell was a safety for the Iowa Hawkeyes at the time and Dorrell was a receiver for UCLA. This season will be the first time all three have worked together on the same sideline.

Norvell started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa in 1986. He went to Northern Iowa for a year and then landed an assistant job at Wisconsin where he coached from 1989 to 1994. It was here that he first worked with current Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan. The two would work together extensively throughout the years at different schools and in the pros.

After Wisconsin, Jay spent the 1995 through 1997 seasons on Dan McCarney's staff at Iowa State, serving as assistant head coach and quarterbacks and receivers coach. Jay did two stints in the NFL, 1998 - 2001 and 2002- 2003, as a position coach. He worked with the receivers at Indianapolis and the tight ends at Oakland. During his time with the Raiders, he reunited with Callahan and the two took positions at Nebraska in 2004.

Jay spent the last two seasons at Nebraska doing pretty much what he'll be doing at UCLA this year. He was the offensive coordinator there and the quarterbacks coach. The big difference is that Norvell will have the added responsibility of calling the plays each Saturday. Most of the work for a coordinator is done in the days before the game, as he prepares the game plan and puts together a play script. Norvell was pretty successful preparing Nebraska as they ranked 14th in the national in total offense last year.

UCLA has seen a lot of turnover at the offensive coordinator spot. Norvell is the 3rd coach in as many seasons and the constant transition has been difficult for the players. Chris Markey had this to say about the coaching carousel, "It's been tough on the guys. It's been hard to adjust to it. It's been kind of rough. But Coach Norvell is a great coach, and the adjustment hasn't been as bad as it was in previous years."

Norvell definitely seems to be more demanding and organized then Svoboda. He asks more from his players and mistakes are not tolerated. When asked about Norvell's style, Markey said. "Coach Norvell coaches just like Coach Walker." That's a good sign and a Walker-like turnaround of the offense is just what the doctor ordered.

If the Spring game was any indication, this offense still has a long way to go under Norvell. Typically the spring is when new concepts and plays are introduced, so we'll have to wait until the fall before we can get an accurate read on this team. A lot will be asked from Jay Norvell, but it seems like his career has been building toward this moment. Hopefully he can take this opportunity and turn it into a huge season for the blue and gold.

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